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Making believe is more than make-believe

CMC Corner
Gary Ketzenbarger
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Gary Ketzenbarger
ALL |

Theater is entertainment. Theater is escapism. Theater is real.

From the moment we were born, we had to learn how to make the distinction between what’s real and what isn’t. But that’s easier said than done since reality is a construct not a “thing,” as even our physical sciences are demonstrating. Children know this in their bones. For them reality is fluid and identities are continuously shifting. The best example of this is what is called “play.”

It is no accident that a play is what you come to see in the theater, too. Behind a children’s game and the art of the theater exists the self-same phenomenon: metaphorical thinking, a type of thinking that is not only essential to our sanity but underlies all of our cognitive processes. This type of thinking allows things/people to be what they are and what they aren’t simultaneously. In a similar manner theater transforms both the actor and the observer. It is in this sense that theater becomes real in its own way.



As a transformational medium, theater encourages a flexibility of perspective both on the part of the actors and on the part of the audience. On both sides of the footlights one is encouraged to enter into the world of the “other” and empathetically identify. This is not always comfortable when we hold the view of the self as something set in stone, unchanging. But there’s good evidence to suggest that the self is metaphorical by its very nature and is always changing, adapting and evolving. In that sense, theater can break people out of a fixed view of themselves and of the world. Shakespeare said it best: Theater deals in “lies like truth,” lies which are all the more true given that they exist on a metaphorical borderline between what’s real and what isn’t, with a foot in both camps. Furthermore, theater always happens in the present. In the theater there is something like a chemical reaction between two catalysts: those on stage and those in the audience. Though a play might be about something that happened in the past, its re-creation means that it is happening all over again, in a different way between different catalysts, night after night. A play can’t help but be real simply because the present moment is, and the performers involved can’t be anything other than real people, though they may be exploring dimensions of themselves not normally exposed or expressed.

Last spring, for example, Colorado Mountain College featured a production of “The Syringa Tree,” which focused on five decades of apartheid history. This amazing one-woman show was made possible by the enormous talent of one actress who in herself was able to conjure up in the imagination of the audience a variety of different people, different places and different times, all in two short hours. “The Syringa Tree” was truly a transformational journey, as all good theater is.



This fall, CMC Theatre will embark upon more journeys, including a play about a dog and another about a midwinter’s night in Maine. Please join us!

Gary Ketzenbarger is associate professor of speech and theater at Colorado Mountain College at Glenwood Springs-Spring Valley. He is also the program director for CMC Theatre which opens its 2010-11 performance season with A.R. Gurney’s “Sylvia” on Oct. 7. The complete performance schedule, plus information on tickets and how to produce one of this season’s plays, can be found at http://www.coloradomtn.edu/theatre (click the link to CMC Theatre).


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